AO1 Fred T. Stark

Larry Bradshaw

by AO1 Fred T. Stark

I was an Aviation Ordnance man First Class when assigned to HAL-3. Upon arrival, I was sent to Det 5 as Petty Officer in Charge on the YBRM 16 near Chau Duc anchored in the river which was a safe haven for the PBR boats and our two helicopters (UH-1B). I was there for about 10 days when they lost the Chief of Det down at Det 1 and I was sent there to replace him. Det 1 was one of the more active dets as we were as far south as you could get in the Delta of Vietnam. The only way to get there was by boat or aircraft and the majority of the time, either arriving or leaving, you were guaranteed to be fired upon by the VC.

I remember one time we were scrambled to support the SEALs, and they were in such close proximity to the enemy, they were whispering into their radio hoping the VC would not hear them as there was only a three foot wide stream separating them.

I was flying the right door with a door mounted mini gun, and the gunner in the left door was firing an M60 machine gun freehand. The trail bird had a fifty caliber machine gun in the right door and a free gun M60 in the left door. We also had fourteen 2.75 rockets in the rocket pods with high explosive heads.

Upon arrival at the target, the SEALs informed us the VC had claymore mines mounted in the trees to take us out when we flew over. A premature firing gave me the location and I was able to take out the claymores with the mini gun. We were taking heavy small arms and automatic weapons fire. The tree canopy was so heavy we could see nothing on the ground. Our firing was being directed by the SEALs.

After expending all of our munitions, we headed back to base for reloading and refueling, making 3 to 5 minute turnarounds. This we did 10 times that day. Finally, a boat was able to get into the area and the SEALs were extracted with only two of them wounded and a few holes in our birds. We had no fatalities or wounds on our part.

Our helos were located on a PSP pad next to the river, and almost nightly, Charlie would shoot a B40 rocket into the area trying to hit the aircraft. With hootches and a revetment on the land side, the helos were relatively safe from the B40s.

One night, Charlie bombarded us with B40 rockets and mortars. When the attack started, I grabbed an M60 machine gun, took the three man re-arm crew armed with M16s, and set up a perimeter on the river bank in case the VC came from the river to get to our helos. After everyone was positioned, I untied the helo blades to save a few seconds if we were able to get airborne.

A short time later, the flight crews came running through the chaos and within seconds we were airborne, taking off darkened ship as not to draw fire. I was flying right door with a fifty cal and M60 back up, left door gunner was flying M60 free gun, the trail bird was flying M60 both doors, and both helos were loaded with 14 rockets with high explosive heads.

We spotted the tube flashes and opened fire on them on the first pass. We expended the rockets on the second pass and the gunners provided machine gun fire. We made one more pass on target working out with the door gunners.

We were then out of ammo and low on fuel, so we pulled off target and landed at a nearby friendly base. We loaded the rocket pods with fleshettes (like a 10 penny nail with fins), rearmed, refueled and returned to the target. Again, we expended all of our ordnance after which things were quiet and we saw no more tube or rifle flashes.

We then returned to Solid Anchor. The next day a sweep by friendly forces found 5 mortar tubes destroyed and a lot of blood trails many dead and a hat nailed to a tree with fleshettes. Two days later we spotted a new cemetery with 8 graves that we believe were from the blood trails from the mortar tube sight.

Being career military, I have seen camaraderie and to this day have never seen it as strong as it was in HAL-3. We were patrolling an area that, according to intelligence, contained a brigade of NVA regulars.

I was flying lead bird, right door with a 50-cal with an M60 as my backup weapon and the left door gunner was flying free gun M60. The trail bird had a free gun M60 in both doors and both birds had 14 flechette headed rockets.

We started taking heavy fire from our left, 51 cal and automatic weapons (AK47). We flew to the south and prepared to make our attack coming in at treetop level from the north. We unloaded half our rockets on the first pass, both gunners opened up as the rockets left the tubes. We then pulled off target to make another run on them as we had them pretty well spotted.

I had a habit of ensuring I had a visual on the trail bird when we pulled off target as Charlies favorite trick was to wait until you passed over then he would open fire as you were pulling away. I could not see the trail bird. The pilot then did a 360 trying to make radio contact and still no trail bird. Not a word was said, then the pilot looked back at us gunners and we gave him a thumbs up.

We had an unwritten pact, no Seawolf would be left behind. We then made a run from the east on target to see if we could find the trail bird. The green tracers were really flying at us this time. We expended every thing we had at them on one pass, inflicting all the damage within our power. Still, we had no sight of the trail bird and were running low on fuel, so we headed back to base.

About 10 minutes out our base informed us the trail bird had safely landed two with minor wounds. They had taken several hits including a 51 cal through the windscreen post where all the wiring for the radios was. That was why we were unable to make contact with them. I know that if I had been the trail bird the lead bird crew would have do the same for us.

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